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Home > Archive > SSW Standards > Developer General > The Best Tools for Windows Forms Development

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  1. Wise for Windows Installer

    There are two ways of creating a setup installation.
    1. The old way is via a script-based system, which is basically a batch file system, and defines step by step what is required (a process-focused approach). Usually this builds a setup.exe file.
    2. The newer way is Microsoft's MSI format, which focus on what needs to be installed (and then how to install them). The new MSI format allows for operations such as repairing a broken installation without re-installing the entire application. Also each installation can be treated as a transactional process where failures can be rolled back object by object.

    Wise and InstallShield both offer commercial products and support for the old script-based approach and the newer MSI approach. We choose Wise over the InstallShield offerings because Wise is traditionally easier to use.

    If you visit these company's websites, you would notice that they both have a confusing amount of installation products. There are even wizards to help you choose which product is suitable for you! We spend a bit of time evaluating between different installation systems and products, and summarize our requirements and findings here.

    1. Wise for Windows Installer (recommended)

    • There are supports for importing from .NET projects and solutions, or wise script projects. These can be helpful to kick start your installation file.
    • Wise products all have Standard, Professional and Enterprise editions. We decided on the Professional version, as we want the 'Wise Update' feature, which is not available in the standard edition.  The enterprise edition has additional software/setup files/merge module repository suitable for very large enterprise-wide installations, which we find will probably not be useful for us.
      Wise product comparisons Leaving SSW Web Site

    Figure: Filling in the Product Details with the Wise for Windows Installer

    Wise for Windows Installer Web Site Leaving SSW Web Site

    2. Wise for Visual Studio.NET

    • The user interface and functionality are exactly the same as the Windows Installer. This particular Wise product is integrated into Visual Studio.NET. It is useful for scanning dependencies, and update project assemblies. Also, the WSI project file can be included in the .NET solution.
    • The VS.NET integration was also the reason we didn't choose this product, we didn't want a setup software that requires VS.NET to run, nor do we necessarily want people without the plug-in getting a warning when opening a solution with a WSI project.  Also, when we start using newer versions of VS.NET (or beta), we don't want the setup program to stop working.

    3. Nullsoft Scriptable Install System (NSIS) Recommended by Scott Hanselman Leaving SSW Web Site

    NSIS (Nullsoft Scriptable Install System) is a professional open source system to create Windows installers. It is designed to be as small and flexible as possible and is therefore very suitable for Internet distribution.

    Nullsoft Scriptable Install System Website Leaving SSW Web Site

    4. Windows Installer XML (WIX) Recommended by Chris Kinsman Leaving SSW Web Site

    The Windows Installer XML (WiX) is a toolset that builds Windows installation packages from XML source code. The toolset supports a command line environment that developers may integrate into their build processes to build MSI and MSM setup packages.

    Windows Installer XML Website Leaving SSW Web Site

    5. Macrovision FLEXnet Installshield

    InstallShield comes with time saving InstallScript enhancements, allowing you to quickly and easily customize any part of your installation, including the user-dialog sequence, file transfer, reboot and even uninstallation. Possibly the best feature of InstallShield is its support for the latest beta of Microsoft Windows Vista, including Internet Explorer 7, Windows Installer 4 and other exciting new technologies. This means you can start working with Vista now, by building your installation to be compatible with the current beta. InstallShield also minimizes reboots through the Restart Manager and gives you more direct control of setup prerequisites.

    Macrovision FLEXnet Installshield Website Leaving SSW Web Site

    Please be aware that after our own trials of a number of setup package creation applications, at SSW we choose to use Wise For Windows Installer for all of our Windows projects' setup files.

    Note : That for web projects we avoid elaborate setup packages altogether. See our Rules To Better Setups for our reason why.

  2. Microtools Access Whiz

    Microtools' Access Whiz transforms your Access forms & reports into manageable .NET forms and Crystal Reports. It is is a time-saving Access to VB .NET Windows application conversion tool. It will generate VB .NET project with easy, readable code and minimize your conversion efforts and costs.

    Figure: Microtools Access Whiz
    Microtools Web Site Leaving SSW Web Site


Adam Cogan